Ten deadly sins of the novice networker

  • Networking mistakes are easy to make and can leave novice networkers lost in the crowd. Our ten tips will help you avoid common mistakes and make those important professional connections.
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“Hello, my name is Mr. X, and I work for company Y. Nice to meet you!” he says, shaking my hand, while I instantly forget his name. Company Y is a very well-known bioengineering multinational that I admire. It just launched a new, highly successful range of specialized health products.

We engage in a lively discussion about the company, its employees and activities, and he generously shares some tips from his long-term experience in the business. We talk very briefly before going back to the conference, so I suggest we continue the conversation over coffee on Sunday morning. He agrees to meet at a local coffee shop at 8 a.m.

On Sunday morning, after looking for a parking spot, I arrive five minutes late. I think, “It is only five minutes; he will understand.” He is waiting for me, sipping a foamy latte while I order and pay for my drink at the counter.

We start discussing the bioengineering industry and company Y’s culture. As my company is looking to expand in the same market as company Y’s, I am secretly trying to get inside tips. What I am really looking for is detailed information on its new range of products and its successful marketing campaign that is generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

After a while, I ask him for some data and advice. A high-ranking expert at the company, Mr. X gives me useful, yet old-fashioned, advice that is neither from my generation, nor a match for my company’s culture. I realize we have different approaches to doing business and share my point of view. Although our discussion was interesting, I don’t really have questions for him, as I do not see how I could apply his tips in my professional life. We leave the two-hour coffee meeting on good terms.

About two months later, after discussing my company’s expansion project with my manager, I realize Mr. X has the specific scientific studies we need. If I can get Mr. X’s materials, we might save a lot of money on very expensive scientific trials. After our friendly meeting a few weeks ago, I am certain he will help me.

In a brief email I ask for his presentation on the studies we need and request details to help my project move forward. He sends slides that I integrate into my case study, but they are not detailed enough. I send him another email asking for more precise information, as well as his notes of what we discussed during our meeting.

After submitting a business plan to my board of directors, I give Mr. X’s details to my manager, who has further questions for him. I kind of lost touch with Mr. X, as I did not want anything else from him, but at least I got the resources I needed to make my project successful. I am a good networker and made a valuable professional contact.

WRONG!

This networker committed some serious mistakes. Did you spot these 10 errors?

  1. Forgetting names. It is important to remember a person’s name, so ask for a business card, focus on the person’s physical details, repeat his/her name in your head and write down when and where you met. Do not expect to build a network if you can’t even remember the name of someone you met.
  2. Setting up inconvenient meetings. Like you, your contact is probably a busy person. Set up a meeting at a time most convenient for your contact. Mr. X would probably rather have slept in or enjoyed a family brunch at 8 a.m. on a Sunday but was too polite to refuse the meeting.
  3. Being late. Punctuality is a sign of respect and consideration for the other person’s time. Plan to arrive before the meeting to make a good first impression. Mr. X might not fuss about the five minute late arrival, but most professionals would think you are unreliable. If you are running late, call the other person and let him/her know.
  4. Not paying for your contact’s meal. If you requested the meeting to seek advice from another professional, paying for coffee or lunch is common courtesy. This is a simple sign of respect and appreciation for the other person.
  5. Refusing advice. Whether or not you like the advice and use it, listen to the other professional. You will probably learn some useful tips. Mr. X was a senior professional who participated in a successful marketing campaign that paid off. The networker should have taken the time to appreciate Mr. X’s advice and approach to business. Only by listening to others’ experiences will you grow professionally. 
  6. Asking for someone’s work. Professionals make a living creating their own materials. This represents countless hours of work, dedication and research, so don’t expect them to give it to you free. How would you feel if someone asked for your blog post and passed it off as his/her own?
  7. Asking for a summary of the meeting. This person has already generously given his/her time; don’t expect him to spend additional time doing your homework. Asking for notes also shows you didn’t listen.
  8. Sharing contact information without approval. Although the person was gracious enough to give his time to you, he may not be willing to do so with everyone in your professional circle. Ask for permission before passing on someone’s contact information, and don’t forget to thank your source if he agrees to help someone else.
  9. Not keeping in touch. Keep in touch with people you meet. This is part of building your network. Professionals are more likely to help you if you regularly keep in touch, versus only contacting them when you need something.
  10. Not expressing gratitude. Thank your contact multiple times—after the initial contact, as well as during and after meetings. Be sure to do this promptly. Even small gestures, such as a handwritten thank-you note, can make a positive, professional impression.

If you avoid committing the 10 deadly sins our hypothetical networker made, you will be on your way to building a strong professional network!